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Three Plays in Seventeen Days: Blame the Victim, Populist Fervor, and a Farce

Photos by Phillip Trey

Humblebrag moment: March 2017 I peaked. What I mean by that, is that I went on the trip of a lifetime. For literature/theater/English history nerds like myself, that is. My mother, Michelle, and I, my “Aunt” Lissa (my mother’s best friend), and Lissa’s sister, Janelle, all rented a car and drove all over southern England and Wales. Spreadsheets were made, routes mapped, tickets purchased, pictures taken, and pheasants maybe sorta gently hit by me while driving the winding roads of England – or as Rudyard Kipling eloquently put it, “down an enlarged rabbit-hole of a lane.” Along with our many destinations of castles, palaces, cliffs, countrysides, literary monoliths museums and homes (Jane Austen, Rudyard Kipling, Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf, Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas to name a few), we also saw three distinctly different plays in three singular cities.

The first play of the trip, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, was in Bath at the Theatre Royal. The play is based on the titular novel by Mark Haddon, which I must admit I haven’t read, but the play was so spectacular that now I want to. The story follows Christopher Boone, a young autistic boy, as he unravels a complicated family life, while also being falsely accused of murdering a neighbor's dog with a pitchfork. After being accused of the crime, he decides to “detective” the mystery and find the true culprit, setting off on a remarkable adventure.

Photos by Phillip Trey

I don’t think I could put into words how glorious and jarring The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time was. The play starts with near-deafening noise and blinding lights, which felt more like an opening salvo of war than a theater. I remember thinking, if it’s like this the whole play I’m gonna have to leave. It was often like that – but I didn’t leave. The performances, the story, the direction, were simply too good. The play left me feeling like the rug was pulled out from under me. It left me wanting to evaluate my relationships with those around me, especially those unlike me. It left me with a greater understanding of what the word patience can really mean.

Photo from the Bath Chronicle

Nancy Connolly of the Bath Chronicle wrote in her review of the same performance

We, the audience, see our own flawed world through his autistic eyes and he plays it with such innocence, endearment and humour that we are captivated.

Movement is very important in this production, it is central, not just by main actors but the entire ensemble and it is beautiful, nothing ever seems to stand still even when it is standing still, and the mime and dance is captivating.

If you ever get the chance, see this play. It was the kind of show I knew I had to learn something from. The kind of play to deepen empathy. The central character, young Christopher, is especially driven, funny, and compelling.

Photos by Phillip Trey

Stepping out of the modern times that Curious took place in, the second play we attended was Julius Caesar, performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon. It was a spur of the moment decision to attend. Atop the theater is a brick tower that stands out amongst the low homes and city spread below. We had only gone to see the views from the tower (which was closed) and see the renaissance of the new Globe Theatre. But our evening plans were uncommonly light that night, and we decided to see what was playing. I’ve seen the 1979 BBC version of the play, I’ve read it for school, and now I’ve seen it live. To be honest, it was hard to stay awake – even through the rabble rousing incoherence of the mob’s many, many, shouting moments.

Photos by Phillip Trey

This latest incarnation was well done, the set was unique, the theatre gorgeous and modern, the sound and lighting lovely, all the right pieces were there, and yet, still, the play was dull. I blame my somewhat lacking interest in Shakespeare’s histories. You can have respect for someone’s work and accomplishments without actually enjoying them: that’s my defense. It also didn't help that the actor portraying Brutus reminded me of a punk-rock tweaker Elijah Wood look-alike, who gave an equally as mundane performance as Wood did for Frodo. The actors playing Marc Antony and Cassius were the standouts for me, and made their own little wonders with the material. I will, however, forever feel lucky to have seen a Shakespeare play performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, in the very town he grew up in. There’s power behind history and presence colliding.

The third and final play of the trip, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, was at the Old Vic Theatre in London, and also has ties to Shakespeare. Written by Tom Stoppard [ ] , the author of the film, Shakespeare in Love, it takes the story of Hamlet’s barely-mentioned escorts, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and gives them the spotlight. It’s a raucous, tongue-twisting farce with a heart of gold. My immediate reaction after seeing the performance was that it was the best kind of nonsense. The cherry on top was its stars: Daniel Radcliffe (HARRY FREAKING POTTER), David Haig (who played Rudyard Kipling in a 2007 film My Boy Jack, also starring Daniel Radcliffe, and highly recommended), and Joshua McGuire (who you may know from Netflix’s Lovesick – formerly called Scrotal Recall) were all stellar.

Photos by Phillip Trey

Michael Billington reviewed the play for The Guardian, and hits the nail on the head when he says:

The comedy comes across well in this production because the two lead actors are so sharply contrasted. Radcliffe’s bearded Rosencrantz is lean, anxious and prone to sudden attacks of panic: McGuire’s clean-shaven Guildenstern is broad-featured, toothy and determined to look on the bright side. Each, at times, partakes of the other’s qualities. But they form a classic double-act whose quickfire exchanges disguise the fact they are both struggling to find identity and purpose in a world that makes little sense.

The set changes were simple and powerful, the monologues as dashing as the stars, and the wit impeccable. Before getting tickets to Rosencrantz, we had tried repeatedly to get tickets to Harry Potter and Cursed Child, but that had as much hope as finding Hamilton tickets in NYC. Instead I got to see the original Mr. Potter in person. Radcliffe did a fantastic job of shedding the wizarding world we all know him for, and inhabiting the character of Rosencrantz that evening. But it was Joshua McGuire’s Guildenstern that truly stole the show for me, his presence and pacing elevated the performance.

Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

The last (and first time) I went to Europe, I was 18. I came home changed (lighter physically, mentally a little more ready for college) but I’ve also often said that that first trip was when I peaked. That life couldn’t possibly get better. More exciting. More beautiful. Now just two months shy of being 28, I can say I’ve peaked again. Funny how travel and theater can do that to you. Cheers to revising that statement in another 10 years.

Stay Backwords,

Phillip Trey

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